Who are the local Native Americans?
The Map of History, by Bruce Johanson
By Bruce Johanson
Before we get into this discussion, I want to make the point that I will not use the term Chippewa. Though this name has been used to denote the Ojibway or as they prefer, Anishinaabe, it was a name foisted upon them by the US Government in its treaties with that nation, and is not a name of their choosing, but has, unfortunately, been adopted for general use in referring to this branch of the larger Algonquin nation.
The local region was inhabited by the Lakota before the Ojibway drove them out to points further west. We also are guilty of branding the Lakota (Dakota) as the Sioux, but this, too, is a misnomer. The Ojibway made their way into the western Great Lakes area mainly as a result of the wars with the fierce Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) who dominated much of the northeast. The Algonquin people lived in Canada along the St. Lawrence and spread into the interior. All of these people spoke a common language that bound them together. The largest group were the Ojibway, as well as the Ottawa, Huron, and others.
The Ojibway were and are hunters and gatherers, and they were skilled boat builders, with their low draft canoes sheathed with birchbark that were far superior to the bulkier dug-outs used by the Lakota. The Ojibway were also very skilled woods people making use of the natural gifts of the northern forests such as maple sugar, and experts at harvesting fish.
The Lakota people were widely distributed throughout the center of North America and were in possession of the western Lake Superior region. In Minnesota, the great spirit lake of the Lakota is Mille Lac, and this was the very center of the allied Lakota world. As early as 1000 AD, there was a movement of people from the Mississippian culture into this region. These were not hunters and gathers, but were quite possibly related to our ancient miners, alluded to in an earlier article. Nevertheless, the Lakota were dominant among the Native Americans in the 17th century, but this was soon to be challenged by the westward movement of the white man as well as the Algonquins, who were under pressure by the fierce Iroquois. It may be good to point out here that the early French incursions into North America took place hand in hand with the French missionaries and fur traders. The Algonquins, whom we will now identify as Ojibway, got along quite well with the French and the two cultures bonded in several ways.
By the 1730s and 1740s, the Ojibway drove the Sioux out of the lakes area, all the way to Mille Lac and beyond. It was not an even contest, as the Ojibway, having been befriended by the French, had firearms with which to easily overcome the bows, arrows, and spears of the Lakota. Eventually, in 1825, what is now Minnesota was divided between the Lakota and the Ojibway. The Ojibway regarded the Lakota as beneath them, and gave them the name Nadouoessioux (shortened to Sioux) which means snake. To the Oibway the Lakota were reptiles. The Lakota also had an epithet for the Ojibway that was no less contemptuous, and has come down to us as the word “Chippewa.”
The often cited history of the Upper Peninsula published by the Western Historical Company of Chicago, believed to have been actually written by Alfred T. Andreas (1839-1900) reports that the local Ojibway held the copper boulder in special regard, considering it a go-between with the Great Spirit. The Lakota also considered the great copper rock to be something sacred. A local story handed down by word of mouth is about a great confrontation between the Lakota and the local Ojibway who lay in wait for a smaller party of Lakota who had come to visit the copper. A great battle took place, supposedly on the hill known locally as “Mount Lookout” that overlook the present-day Victoria Dam and hydropower station.
As reported in the above-mentioned History of the Upper Peninsula, (perhaps it was in the battle at Mt. Lookout) that a young maiden of perhaps 15 years of age was taken prisoner. According to Andreas, Father Charlevoix, a Jesuit missionary, sent this story to his superior in Paris. The young maiden was given a special lodge for her personal use, and she was given ornaments of copper and silver to wear. She was shown every courtesy and told that she had been chosen to become the bride of a great chief. The following spring, the girl was taken back upstream to the site of the great boulder, where she was directed to gather firewood for the wedding ceremony. The story from Fr. Charlevoix continues: the girl was taken to the great boulder, where she was tied to the top of the rock and then tortured by burning sticks (which she had herself gathered) being applied to her flesh. At some point, the circle of warriors parted, and the head chief stepped forward and shot an arrow into her heart. Of course there was much blood and the warriors dipped their arrows and spears in the girl’s blood as she lay expiring on the great boulder. It was part of the religious beliefs of the Ojibway of that time that the great boulder held the captive spirit of a great chief, and that in sacrificing the girl, they had wedded her spirit to that of the chief. The girl’s blood on their weapons would give them strong medicine against their enemies, the Lakota.
Next week, we will continue with more stories and information about the great nation of the Ojibway (Anishinaabe) who once fully possessed this area.